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Chicken Manure, Horse Manure, and Pillbugs, O My!

January 26th, 2009 by Temple City Tribune

Dear Garden Gal,
I have a bet with a friend. I say my chicken manure is the best fertilizer for plants. My friend says horse manure is better and less likely to burn roots. I say this guy’s a bum and a know-it-all and I can’t wait to take his five bucks. Please tell my pal how right I am because he just doesn’t understand.

On Fair Oaks

Dear Flush,
I’m sorry to tell you that you’ve just flushed your five bucks down the drain. But the school of hard knocks is a good place to learn a little humility. Horse manure contains about 4% nitrogen and breaks down harmful salts in the soil better than steer manure at 1% nitrogen, or your beloved chicken manure at 7 to 9% nitrogen.
Don’t get me wrong. I love chicken manure. But too much of a good thing is well, for the birds. Chicken manure will give you a big nitrogen punch in case of chlorosis (yellowing between leaf veins). But you want to make sure to work the manure into the soil 4” from the plant stem and 4” from the roots so you’re not burning roots and leaves or overdosing on nitrogen which results in too much foliar growth. Water well, and subsequent waterings will continue to leach nitrogen into the soil for the roots to distribute to the plant.
Working chicken manure into the soil does provide lots of good organic material to break down and improve the texture of the soil over time. But you can liberally use horse manure, or even rabbit droppings, without fear of burning plants.

Dear Garden Gal,
My flower bed is covered with pillbugs. They are so destructive, eating all the leaves! How can I get rid of them?

Not Willy Nilly About Pillies
In Pasadena

Dear Not,
Not so fast. Not only are you aggrieved, you wrongly aggrieve the lowly pillbug. They are not the enemy. Their job, in fact, is to clean up decomposed plant material, and only occasionally will they stumble upon new leaf growth or seedlings. At this time of year, the culprits are snails and slugs who graze on tender flowers, shoots, leaves, tomatoes, lettuces and strawberries. The damaged leaves then become food for pillbugs. To discourage snails and pillbugs, clean up fallen leaves and clear away low growing branches from the ground. Further control slugs and snails by clearing out their shady daytime hiding places, trap them under boards and containers, hand pick often and kill them with a spray of equal parts ammonia and water.

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